Name: Nikole Brown
Occupation: Student, Research Assistant
Location: Saint Louis, MO
How do you define feminism?
Feminism is questioning hierarchies of power, socially constructed in-groups around the subjects of race, gender, and sexuality, and the defense of socio-political and economic rights for all humans. As an educator, I believe feminism studies the construction of normality within public and private spheres and the tool that connects these areas – media. I would be remiss as a feminist if I did not acknowledge how media presentations create and sustain cultural ideology, which is why media literacy education is important.
When did you first identify as a feminist?
It was around my second semester of my freshman year in college that I found feminism. I grew up in a small, traditional, and religious southern town in Alabama, and while I love my southern background, extreme femininity and submissive behavior are the traits still respected foremost in women. Coupled with a religious backdrop, the idea of the patriarch and masculinity was an ideal that created boundaries for myself and pressures for my male relatives. At the time I rarely questioned this environment.
A sociology requirement helped me discover feminism in an Introduction to Women’s Studies course, and my life was completely changed. I met amazing groups of women as I continued further into feminist theory, and I found I learned more about myself than any years I spent in my childhood home. For a couple of years, I got really angry, and I questioned everything. I think I really needed that time to reevaluate my ideals, and mourn the opportunities I did not take when I was younger because I thought it would be inappropriate as a woman.
Has your (definition of) feminism changed over time? How?
I wouldn’t say it has changed, but it has expanded. In my initial years as a feminist, theory around race and sexuality were my focus, since, at the time, these were the areas I harbored many negative and conflicted feelings. Now, my feminist ideals also include environmentalism, animal rights, issues around motherhood, such as midwifery, and global feminism.
Have you ever experienced resistance to identifying as a feminist? If so, why do you think that is and how do you handle it?
My family took the whole thing as a joke, until they realized it wasn’t. I found the best way to deal with their resistance to my changing ideas was not to censor myself. I wasn’t confrontational, but I wasn’t silent either. Dating was the only other area where identifying as a feminist encouraged some off-color remarks, but that was an easy fix – run, don’t walk away.
What do you see as the future of feminism?
We need to rediscover our fervor and increase our interest and celebration of grassroots activism. As a graduate student, I have found that many academic minds are less concerned about the perspectives of women and forms of activism, and are more concerned with merely maintaining the literature around feminism for other academics. To survive, feminism must avoid the fate of many revolutionary movements, which is to refuse to be inclusive.
Also, feminism cannot exist inside a vacuum, and as the world evolves into a global community, due to access to information, feminists in Western culture can’t ignore feminism from an international perspective.
Nikole Brown is a graduate student and research assistant in the Communication department at Webster University – St. Louis, where she also received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Women’s Studies. She volunteers with the National Association for Media Literacy Education, and runs a feminist, cultural studies book club called Queerios.
You can follow Nikole on Twitter @ElysiumFarm, check out her Tumblr, read her motherhood/urban gardening blog, The Farm and the Family, or you can reach her via email nikolembrown [at] gmail [dot] com.